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MIDEAST: It Will Take the World To Save These Homes

April 7, 2009

MIDEAST: It Will Take the World to Save These Homes
By Nora Barrows-Friedman

Sheikh Jarrah - al-Kurd tent

Sheikh Jarrah - al-Kurd tent

EAST JERUSALEM, Apr 7 (IPS) – Orthodox Israeli settlers, backed by soldiers and police, attacked Palestinian residents of the Sa’diyya neighbourhood of occupied East Jerusalem Sunday evening, four days after the settler group invaded the home of the Jabir family and extra-judicially evicted them.

The settlers claim ownership of the Jabir home and several others in Sa’diyya, even after an Israeli court had decided to examine an appeal filed by Palestinian families contesting the legitimacy of the settlers’ claims. Three Palestinians were injured and several were beaten and arrested by Israeli police when residents of the neighbourhood attempted to protect the Jabir home and restrain the settlers and Israeli forces.

At the same time, near Sa’diyya Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood are also facing expanding settler attacks, evictions and court battles that threaten their homes.

Maher Hanoun sits on the veranda of his modest but classic Jerusalem house. Green clematis vines crawl along the outside stone wall; children play a game of football in the alleyway across the street. Hanoun’s quiet home finds itself in the direct crosshairs of what he calls the latest round of Israeli colonisation in this area. On Sunday, his family lost a final appeal in the Israeli High Court to save it. Israel has since announced that it plans to demolish the house, and those of other families in Sheikh Jarrah.

“Until now, the (Israeli) court doesn’t believe that we are the owners of this home,” Hanoun tells IPS. “We have documents that this home was given to us by the Jordanian government before the 1967 occupation…We are refugees. I don’t want to live in a tent again.”

After Palestinians were expelled and dispossessed from their villages and towns in 1948, the United Nations’ Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) cooperated with the Jordanian government in 1956 to build housing units for refugees in Sheikh Jarrah, within an agreement that would trade UNRWA refugee benefits for permanent housing for these relocated Palestinian families.

In 1972, however, Israeli settler groups began what would be a lengthy process of filing legal suits over land titles, claiming ownership of the property and pursuing subsequent eviction of the Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah. Forged documents of land ownership were submitted by the settler group, resulting in a court order that forced the Palestinian families to pay rent.

In 2006, when the documents were proved fraudulent, the Israeli court ruled the settlers’ claim void but did not re-instate the Palestinian families’ ownership to their land. However, it was too late, and in 2008, the settler group “sold” the land in Sheikh Jarrah to an Israeli investment company which currently plans to demolish Sheikh Jarrah and build 200 housing units for the exclusive use of Jewish settlers.

After these plans were made, settlers began invading and occupying Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah. One family in particular has received some attention from reporters and international human rights groups. After the Israeli court ruled in favour of settlers to evict them, the Al-Kurd family were thrown out of their home in November 2008 and have since lived in a canvas tent below their house in a former trash dump as the settlers move freely in and around the Al-Kurd property. The court based the eviction on the Al-Kurd family’s refusal to pay rent to the settlers.

Nasser Al-Ghawei tells IPS from inside the Al-Kurd tent in Sheikh Jarrah that earlier this year Palestinian families felt relief when the Turkish government, dismayed at Israel’s brutal actions in Gaza, decided to release documents from the Ottoman-era archives that prove Palestinian-Arab ownership of the land. “We took these papers back to the court to prove that this is Arab land,” Al-Ghawei says. “And the decision was negative.”

An Israeli lawyer representing the settler group offered Al-Ghawei and his 16 other family members 17 million dollars to leave their home. “Seventeen million dollars cannot pay for my memories. I was born in this house…This is my identity,” Al-Ghawei says.

The European Union describes Israel’s military and court actions in occupied East Jerusalem as discriminatory, and recognises a “clear Israeli intention to turn the annexation of East Jerusalem into a concrete fact.” A more subdued response to Israel’s continued occupation and colonisation of East Jerusalem has come from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who recently called Israel’s house demolition orders there “unhelpful, and not in keeping with the obligations entered into under the ‘road map’.”

Under international law, the military occupation, settlement construction and accelerated annexation of Palestinian neighbourhoods and villages in East Jerusalem is illegal.

Jimmy Johnson, international coordinator with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, tells IPS that the only recourse that remains to end this battle in Sheikh Jarrah for the Palestinian residents is international pressure. “Most effective in the short term is trying to raise international pressure, especially on the United States. As long as the U.S. is backing Israel, relatively unconditionally, it doesn’t matter so much if Sweden or Brazil or India wants to pressure Israel directly. But if you can get the U.S. to switch its policies, especially in response to international pressure, that’s when we can begin to see some change here.

“Inside the Israeli bureaucracy, there is no more recourse left,” Johnson says. “International pressure is the only way that the Hanoun family and other families won’t be evicted from their houses.”

Johnson gives IPS his assessment of the expanded settlement activity in East Jerusalem. “The bigger question in East Jerusalem is the large settlements,” he says. “You can look at it on a map. You can see that (Israeli settlers) are trying to surround the old city of Jerusalem with a sufficiently dense Jewish population to prejudice the status of the land in any future negotiations.”

In the meantime, Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem prepare to continue their fight against settler attacks, eviction and ongoing forced displacement based on Israel’s institutionalised discrimination against Palestinians.

“There is a big fraud taking place here,” Hanoun tells IPS. “We need diplomatic pressure to stop this from happening. We need more time. And now, we are just waiting. I don’t know what will happen to us, maybe they will come for us today and evict us. There are no more courts to appeal to.” (END/2009)

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 14, 2009 4:08 pm

    salam
    I wish that I had a city map of Jerusalem on hand to point myself to the places that you mentioned in the article.

    I am curious, though, why this practise is called only “discriminatory” and not “ethnic cleansing” as it really is?
    -Pink

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